The All Blacks will likely depart for their bumper road trip to Australia and Europe without two of their key players - including their captain.
On Thursday, the squad will leave for a mammoth four-month road trip, which includes the final Bledisloe Cup test in Perth next Saturday, the remainder of the Rugby Championship in Queensland, then the annual year-end tour to Europe, incorporating a stopover in Chicago.
The wives of skipper Sam Whitelock and halfback Aaron Smith are both expecting babies over the coming months, and they'll likely choose to remain in New Zealand and miss the Australian leg of the trip.
"It's unlikely that a [Sam] Whitelock, for example, or an Aaron Smith, potentially, will be on the plane on Thursday," says coach Ian Foster, fresh from extending his deal with NZ Rugby through until the end of the next World Cup.
"We'll confirm more of those details as I have them."
Both Smith and Whitelock are expected to rejoin the squad later in the tour.
Others with expecting wives and partners - including first-five Richie Mo'unga - may also leave towards the end of the tour.
Foster was unwilling to reveal whom he had lined up to replace Whitelock as captain, but Codie Taylor and Anton Lienert-Brown are two candidates who may be near the top of his list.
Foster confirms they'll take a squad in the "mid-30s", with players currently scrambling to ensure they have the required vaccinations and negative COVID tests to prove they're fit to fly.
"The principles are still the same, but we need to look at the variables now," he notes. "We have to have players that have had two jabs before they get on a plan, so that changes things.
"They have to have a negative COVID test, so everyone's running around doing that today."
Foster had originally hoped to take a relatively small squad, leaving players behind to play provincial rugby, then having them rejoin the group as required.
But quarantine requirements mean bringing players over to join the squad later in their journey will be a significant challenge.
"When we get to Queensland, they've got a 'hard' quarantine two-week principle, which is a player alone in his room. What that means is it's going to delay entry for some players and obviously the fact that once they hop on that plane, they can't come home.
"We're juggling a little bit."
In Perth, they'll face a two-week 'soft' quarantine, where they'll be unable to leave the hotel except for training for the week leading up to the third Bledisloe test and the week after, before departing for Queensland.
The full All Blacks tour squad will be announced on Wednesday.
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